Grammatical Gaffes on the Web are the Worstest

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They’re maybe one or too things wrong with this sentence your reading, or may be even five – quite possibly more.

Grammatical gaffes can have a devastating effect on Web workers. Content has long been the King of the Internet, but that has never been so true as it is today. Website visitors ultimately make their decisions based on the quality and relevance of the content they consume, so grammatical errors have a profoundly negative effect on overall user experience – and thus, on conversion rates.

Users are not the only ones put off by careless grammatical errors. Search engines do not look kindly on poorly written and/or edited content. The most severe situations will usually involve error-ridden page titles or headlines, which can actually prevent the offending Web page from appearing in search results on Google, Bing and other engines.

So, let's say that you are neither a Pulitzer Prize-winning author nor a university English professor; how do you know what pitfalls lurk in the shadows? Here are a few common mistakes that all Web workers can and should avoid:

Correct Usage of Homonyms
Homonyms are words that are pronounced the same but differ in meaning and also frequently in spelling. Some classic examples of these include the following:

- Their (to show possession), They’re (a contraction of "they" and "are") and There (which refers to a place or acts as a pronoun)

- Your (to show possession) and You’re (a contraction of "you" and "are")

- Other common misuses of homonyms can include "affect/effect" and "then/than"

These mistakes are easy to make and can be hard to catch, but the negative "effects" they have on big brands and small businesses can be significant.

Hyphens and Apostrophes
Making sure that you use punctuation properly can make a big difference in terms of your SEO success. But these things are often determined by preferences in style rather than universal grammatical rules.

The common Web terms "Email/e-mail", "Ecommerce/e-commerce", "eBooks/Ebooks", etc., pose challenges for online content providers, and stylistic standards can change overnight. The best advice when it comes to specific Web-related jargon is to remain consistent; if not throughout your entire site, certainly throughout a given article or post – anything less will be seen as unprofessional by the eagle-eyed members of your audience.

Apostrophes are also often overlooked but vitally important elements to creating great Web content. The most typical infractions occur in the different case uses of the words "its" (possessive) and "it's" (it + is), and in the different versions of commonly used acronyms such as "CEO's" (possessive) and CEOs (plural).

Dangling Modifiers and Subject/Verb Agreement
Dangling modifiers take place when a sentence is structured in such a way that a modifying word or adjectival clause is associated with a word or phrase that is not the one it is supposed to be modifying.

Example: The robber ran from the policeman, still holding the money in his hands.

Subject/verb agreement simply means that the main verb, or action, in a sentence must “agree” in number with the subject, or main noun. In other words, a plural subject (cats) requires a plural verb (ran), while a singular subject (umbrella) requires a singular verb (opens).

Both of these errors can make it hard for readers to decipher the intended meaning of a sentence, thus obscuring your brand’s message.

This Goes Without Saying
You may not have a crack editorial staff at your disposal, but most website owners and content producers do have access to simple spellcheck programs that can save them a lot of headaches and maybe even some business. Avoid using them at your own peril.

Final Word
Did you see what we did here? We purposely planted dozens of grammatical errors in this very post to see who amongst you is really paying attention. Let's have it in the comments section, and we'll be happy to provide a critique.


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DavidC 04-20-2012 5:23 PM

as a senior citizen and still active web developer and hoster, this article actually speaks to the profound failure of our educational system to teach the basics of good grammar (and penmanship and math!) let's not even talk about history.

i've met so many young adults - who populate  the web space - who can't speak properly (but BOY can they text) or write a proper english sentence.

"relevancy" [RELEVANCE]  

"Some classic examples of this [THESE] include the following:"

"These mistakes are easy to make and can be hard to catch"

They are NOT easy to make if you've been properly educated!

oh - and spell checkers won't correct grammar, nor will they correct contextual  errors where the word is in the dictionary.

these kind of errors drive me crazy and you won't see any of them on MY webiste.

Linc Wonham 04-20-2012 5:30 PM

Thank you, DavidC. Glad to know that you're paying attention and not the only one bothered by errors.

HarveyW 04-20-2012 6:18 PM

David wrote:

"these kind of errors drive me crazy and you won't see any of them on MY webiste."

:-)  Except for these?

JohnL 04-20-2012 7:09 PM

As a society, we seem to have forgotten how to spell and write--even local newspapers. The one mistake I see more than anything else is the misuse of apostrophes. Case in local bowling alley has a board with business cards of their sponsors. It reads: A list of our advertiser's. One company's name is Land's Used Auto's. Where did these people go to school? I'm in Tampa, FL (but grew up in NY). Another major issue is the combining of two words into one..such as: Big savings everyday (vs. every day - not used as an adjective), or signup (vs. sign up), or:  I'm going to workout (vs. work out). Or, let me help you setup your computer (vs. set up). Get the point?

PaulK 04-20-2012 9:08 PM

My problem is, my hands do the typing, not my brain.  By the time I realize what I've done, it's in print.  Just now, I corrected "to the typing" to "do the typing".  I knew what I wanted to type, but my fingers didn't quite get it.

It also helps to write it, leave it for 10 and come back to review it.

A secretary told me her secret: After printing it out, read it backwards from end to beginning.  You'll catch things you missed.

NancyA 04-20-2012 9:14 PM

Did you see the McDonald's ad "Knockout Hunger" - they ran it a couple of years ago. I sent them an email pointing out their use of a noun 'knockout' instead of a verb 'knock out' - I'm sure I was not the only one who responded. The ad disappeared very quickly.

Linc Wonham 04-21-2012 10:31 AM

These are great comments, so thanks and keep 'em coming. I should have identified myself as the editor of this post when I responded to David above.

Paul's secretary gives a fantastic tip that we should have provided in the post. Many Web workers would be amazed how helpful the reading-from-the-bottom method is in terms of proofing/copy editing.

AngelaC 04-21-2012 3:40 PM

I was very happy to read your "Final Word" as I was becoming a bit concerned, especially with the e.g. you gave for subject/verb agreement.

Spellcheck programs, I believe, add to the errors that are pervasive in most documents today. It seems that many people don't know the language very well and when they rely on spell check, whatever is served up is accepted.

Mark Roth 04-22-2012 12:10 AM

Needless to say, "This Goes Without Saying" is a funny heading for a paragraph of content, Michael. ;-)

I used to email infrequent corrections to writers here at WM, but the process is too cumbersome since I prefer not to use public comments for that.

scarey 04-22-2012 7:02 AM

great article. i'm a web design and interactive media pixel pusher and have a situation currently with a client's content development.  It is poorly written and I can't use it until it is rewritten, but that was not estimated in the project proposal.

Lucky me.

I have not seen mention of any online grammar tools, such as:


these are not a substitute for "learning to write", but they are useful for the independent contractor without a proofing staff.

my thoughts,


Hilary St Jonn 04-23-2012 2:22 PM

While a lot of the grammar mistakes should not be made, they are. And I do make a lot of them. I try to read my post multiple times, and if someone points out an error I change it.

However, I am afraid that this may just start to change the language. I just moved back to the States after being gone for 10 years. It surprises me how many people CONSTANTLY use "good" instead of "well". I cringe, and sometimes they are the same people that point out my grammar errors!

I hope that the Internet will not decrease our grammar skills in the future :(

RosemaryB 04-24-2012 7:17 PM

Poor grammar has long been a particular pet peeve of mine; it's something I can't help but notice. Although it rarely ever seems appropriate to correct another's grammar mistakes during a conversation, and doing so on the Internet is the very definition of pointless, one often feels compelled to address the offending error. A little humor is often the best approach in such situations, and luckily, I've designed the perfect solution! or

JosephG 04-27-2012 12:59 PM

Interesting that WM would post this article, seeing as how almost every article of yours I read (on-line or print) shows a distinct lack of proofreading.

GiovanniE 04-15-2013 7:30 PM

Typos and misspellings are a pet peeve of mine, and as a company who's in the content-delivery business, kudos to this article! It's a testament to how grammatical gaffes have more far-reaching consequences.

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